‘We Don’t Want To Get Too Far Ahead’ – Rugby ATL’s Kurt Coleman
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Bryce France
For Kurt Coleman and Rugby ATL, there are just six games left of the regular season. As things stand, ATL has a 5-5 record and next must contend with the Toronto Arrows this Friday night in Ontario.
In recent weeks, the side coached by Stephen Brett has been in good form, winning three of their last four games, their slip in that time coming at the hands of the New England Free Jacks in Massachusetts at the conclusion of April.
“In the beginning of the season, we had a good start, I’d say,” Coleman said. “Then we kind of had a bad run and some tough games. We lost three in a row [San Diego, Houston SaberCats, and Rugby New York Ironworkers], and we kind of came together as a group.
“We re-evaluated where we were in the season, we set some goals for ourselves, and I think we are going really well. The team is really starting to gel now; everyone is understanding the processes and stuff.
“I think we are in a really good spot at the moment. We are not where we want to be, but we have got some plans around that, we have got a goal that we want to achieve.
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) April 16, 2023
“With saying that, we don’t really worry about the results, it is more about the process, and once we get the process right, the results will come as we get to the business end of the tournament.”
FINDING AN IDENTITY
“As the season has gone along, we kind of found our identity of how we want to play,” Coleman said. “In the beginning of the season, we wanted to play a certain way, and it just didn’t work for us.
“We won a few, we lost a few and we were figuring out what was the best way for us to play as a team. Then once that started clicking, that’s when we got a winning streak, and we got our little hiccup against the Free Jacks a couple of weeks ago.
“I think now we know what our identity is. The main thing is, we found our identity midseason, which is a good time to find it and finetune it as you enter the business end of the tournament.”
Such has been the tale of their season to date. ATL’s decision to change their approach is already paying off. Even so, the side was never down and out, and after six games, their record was 2-4, and rescued by the end of last month.
Growth, according to the team’s fly-half, can be seen through the lens of their two most recent games. Against New England, the 33-year-old watched as his teammates could not build on a promising first half in defense, but against the Chicago Hounds were dominant on their way to a 27-12 victory.
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) May 7, 2023
There is a guile to the way that the side play, as well as the expected overhang of forwards dominance and precision, which was a major factor in the side finishing the 2021 season as runners-up in Major League Rugby.
This new combination in which the backs are brought into play more readily, it makes ATL a challenging proposition.
“We are striving to become a triple threat team so; kicking, running and up front,” Coleman explained. “I think we have a good balance at the moment, the thing is just being consistent with that.
“It is obviously game to game. We look at the opposition, we see where we can target them, and tweak our game plan. We are working towards that triple threat team, who can run from anywhere, have a kicking game, and strong in defense as well.”
It’s @RugbyATL striking first with this Jack Shaw try at speed
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) May 6, 2023
LOOKING AT MAY
This Friday night, Coleman will be lining up against Eastern Conference rivals, the Toronto Arrows. A win for ATL would go a long way to boosting the side up the conference. Their current position of fifth in their division is something of a deception, with just a bonus point victory standing between them and Old Glory DC at present.
Heading north of the border will certainly have its challenges. But, playing an Arrows side with an increasingly bigger point to prove, Coleman is more than aware that each point on offer at this stage of the season has added value, with the playoff marathon concluding with an all-out sprint.
There are three fixtures to play until May ends, Toronto up first before clashes with the Dallas Jackals and the Western Conference’s fourth-place side, the Utah Warriors, all coming up.
“I would like to get 15 points from the three games,” Coleman said. “Realistically, probably 14. We are looking to win all three. I think Toronto and Dallas, we have got an opportunity to get five if we just nail our processes and stick to how we want to play.
“I must say, Utah has been the inform team over the last month. Themselves and San Diego. That will be a big challenge for us, to go up there and get a win. We lost to them last year, so we owe them a favor there.
“The thing is, we don’t want to get too far ahead. We are taking it week by week, all out focus this week is on Toronto. Every point is up for grabs in this next block, the biggest thing if we can get away with 15 points from these next three games, we will be in a really good spot going into the playoffs.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE MENTAL FITNESS?
The biggest thing for me, I have been playing for a while now, and when I was a younger player, starting to play professionally, everything was rugby. I would train in the mornings, the whole day, get home, do reviews, and be consumed with the game.
Sometimes, at least for me, in the past, you kind of lose your identity. Then I went through a couple of injuries, an that’s when I found out rugby is what you do, not who you are.
That is when mental health really came into play for me, and I just had to find myself again outside of rugby. That probably changed my whole view of being a professional rugby player nowadays, I come to training, and once I leave the facility, I am done. I switch off.
I try and get away from the game, have a lot of barbecues with friends, and don’t talk about rugby. That has really helped me to prolong my career, so I am
not as burnt out as I was as a younger player.
HOW DO YOU CHECK IN ON YOUR TEAMMATES?
We try and make a thing of working from 8 to 5, and we make a point of doing all your work at work, and when you go home, you have got the rest of the day to do what you want.
We also have a mentor system, where the senior guys will check in on the junior players, take them for coffee, see how they are doing, and help them understand the roles they have to fulfill.
Outside of rugby, it is to see if they are struggling with anything personally, just a chat over coffee, and I think that makes a massive difference, just to check in on your teammates.
We are lucky enough to all live in the same complex, so it is very easy to just say, ‘do you want to come over for a drink’ or whatever, and just have a chat.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEBODY STRUGGLING IN SILENCE?
Talk. That is the biggest thing. You have got to open your mouth, if you don’t talk, no one will know. I myself struggled with that for the longest time.
Especially as men, we are so proud to just say we are fine and that nothing is wrong and then you are struggling on the inside with anxiety and depression and all these things.
The biggest thing for me was you don’t have to speak to your teammates if you don’t want to, but if it is a best friend or your parents, just an outsider, you have to get it out; otherwise, it is going to eat you from the inside.
That is probably the biggest advice I would give, open your mouth and talk.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
It is difficult because it worked for me at that stage of my career. I would say, just get away from the game a little bit more. That is easier said than done. You obviously want to make it as a youngster.
I would definitely say to get away from the game and not to be consumed by it, and don’t let outside factors affect who you are, especially media and the fans and all these things, because that is how you get sucked into the whole vibe of being a professional rugby player.
You can lose yourself within that. We have a saying in South Africa, it is in Afrikaans, ‘you got caught by the lights’, so you don’t get caught up by the big thing, you focus on what you have to do, and when you are done – it is like a normal 8 to 5, just get home and do what you have to do.
HOW ARE YOU OUT OF 10?
I am an 11. I am feeling really good. I am in a really good space at the moment. I am very happy where I am at ATL, I think we have a good squad with good coaches.
Outside of the game, I have good mates, and coming to America has been massive for me. Everything is new after coming from South Africa.
It is easy to get away from the game because I am basically a tourist, I have been a tourist for five years, so it has been awesome.
It is a lot easier to break away, so that has really helped me, and that has mentally put me in a better space. Probably the best I have been in my career.
Written by Joe Harvey First overall pick in the 2022 Major League
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